James Gjaltema writes about travel for The Armchair Mayor News.
COLUMN — Last week I had the opportunity to go on a travel agent’s trip to Las Vegas. Even though I have booked trips there for hundreds of people, I had never been there myself. I seized the opportunity, since nothing compares to firsthand experience.
As I flew over the desert, I saw the impressive Red Rock canyon just before the sprawling sin city. Las Vegas is Spanish for the meadows. As we descended for landing I didn’t see any meadows, but did recognize many iconic landmarks on the strip.
Everything seemed so close, like you reach out and touch it from the airport. From Mandalay Bay on the south end to Stratosphere on the north side, it had the appearance that you could easily walk from one end to the other, casually strolling through places like Luxor, New York, Paris and Venice.
I took a shuttle to my hotel from the airport for $7.50. If I had someone to share a ride with I would have taken a taxi for about $15. I experienced firsthand what I had already known – the resorts are massive, and walking takes longer than you think.
Our group was shuttled from property to property and we still managed to walk about 10 km a day just touring rooms and amenities within the resorts.
There are lots of ways to get around in Vegas. A monorail runs along the east side of the strip from MGM Grand up to Westgate by the convention centre and you can get unlimited passes for however many days you’re in town — a three-day pass is about $30.
There are some free trams on the West side of the strip. One connects Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur, another connects Aria, Monte Carlo and Bellagio, and yet another connects the Mirage and Treasure Island.
The downside is that the stations are usually at the back of the properties and you have to walk a long way, intentionally being herded past shops. “The Deuce” is a double decker bus service that runs up and down the strip. You can buy a 24-hour pass for $8.
Vegas is constantly changing and re-inventing itself. Old resorts have been imploded to make room for newer grander ones. Since the economic crash, there has been more renovation and re-branding rather than all out re-building. The hotel previously known as Imperial Palace became the Quad and is now being transformed into the Linq. While it is an older building the renovated rooms will provide a decent affordable option with an excellent location.
The hotel known for over half a century as the Sahara, was recently re-opened as the higher-end SLS Hotel & Casino. Some classic properties have maintained their names through revitalization. For example, the Riviera (where I got to see Frank Sinatra’s suite) and the downtown Golden Nugget (where they have a waterslide that goes through a shark tank) have been very nicely renovated.
Vegas is synonymous with entertainment; there is no shortage of ways to spend money on amusement. Aside from the obvious gambling options, you can partake in so many activities from eating gourmet burgers to Broadway shows (I saw Wicked and the Million Dollar Quartet and ate some incredible burgers). There are thrill rides & zip-lines, exotic car driving experiences, and shooting ranges (I got to shoot a machine gun at a zombie target).
“High Roller,” the world’s largest Ferris wheel, opened this year. It costs $25 during the day and $35 at night and offers amazing views. Venturing outside of the city, you can visit the hoover dam, Grand Canyon or cruise on Lake Meade. Once back in the city, why not take a romantic champagne helicopter flight over the strip at night?
Of course, your trip wouldn’t be complete until you got married by Elvis at the Graceland Wedding Chapel ($400 package includes limo ride, professional photographs and Elvis walks the bride down the aisle, sings three songs and performs the ceremony).
Westjet has direct flights from Kelowna on Thursdays and Sundays. A four-night package staying at Mandalay Bay Nov. 23-27 is $563.
Kamloops has flight options connecting through Vancouver or Calgary. A four-night package staying at Luxor Nov. 24-28 is $484.
Bellingham airport offers lots of direct flights with Allegiant and Alaska airlines. A four-night package staying at the Venetian Nov. 16-20 is $396 USD.
James Gjaltema is a founding member of the Kamloops Travel Club and a Flight Centre Associate. He can be reached at 250-879-0873 or through his web-site: http://www.flightcentreassociates.com/jamesgjaltema.